On why ‘Design Matters’, with Debbie Millman
by Manogna Kalyani
Design is one of the few disciplines that is a science as well as an art. - Debbie Millman
Close to thirty-five years ago, Debbie Millman started her career as a journalist and grew to be the editor of the Arts & Features section of her school newspaper in SUNY Albany. Today she is an acclaimed designer, brand consultant, educator, illustrator, entrepreneur, podcast host, and the author of six books on art, design, and creative living.
In the interview that follows, Millman shares her remarkable ideas on the challenges of being an artist, the changing role of design in today’s world, and her advice for millennial artists.
1. In today’s world of overwhelming choice, how important are branding and design?
Design and branding are inextricably linked to the way in which society, culture, the environment and business interact. At this particular moment in time, I believe that the discipline of branding has more impact on our culture than any other creative medium.
2. The world of art is highly subjective, how do you ensure success in an environment where everyone has an opinion?
You can’t. But, if your work has a unique point of view, if it has a deeply strategic reason for being, it has a better chance. Ultimately, a sound strategy takes away much of the subjectivity in evaluating design.
3. Is there a science to design?
To a degree. I believe that these are the skills people are expected to have in design; you must know more than just how to design:
• Have a deep understanding of diverse business strategies
• Be able to critically evaluate brand, business, marketing and design strategy
• Be able to create frameworks to guide brand, design and business development
• Have an understanding of brand valuation
• Have an understanding of the brand development lifecycle
• Be able to investigate marketing challenges involved in creating and sustaining brands
• Have an understanding of important themes in behavioral science
• Have an understanding of relevant cultural themes as they relate to branding
• Master the intellectual link between leadership and creativity
• Have an understanding of and experience with c-level discourse
4. How do you work when you can’t find an “inspiration”?
I created a fun graphic for Alex Cornell’s book Break Through! Overcome Your Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination:
It is still my “go-to” recommendation for dealing with lack of inspiration.
5. You have a wealth of experience in the field of design, do you think designing for millennials is any different than it was before?
I find the role of branding now incredibly, incredibly exciting and a lot of that has to do with the energy and intellect of the new generation of designers and makers.
Movements such as Black Lives Matter is one of the most important instigators of change to enter our cultural discourse in a long time. As is the use of the Pink Pussy hat. Design has finally become democratized, and these efforts are not about anything commercial.
These efforts have not been initiated for any financial benefit. They have been created by the people for the people to serve the highest purpose design has: to bring people together for the benefit of humanity. This is creating an environment wherein design and branding are not just tools of capitalism, rather they have become profound manifestations of the human spirit.
6. Does technology have an impact on your job as a designer? What are some digital tools you’d recommend for today’s designers?
Yes! I love my iPad Pro and my Apple pencil. They have changed the way I work in really cool ways.
7. On the Tim Ferris Show, you spoke about how rejection and failure are an important part of life. Do you have a message for young artists wanting to make it big?
Ten bits of advice:
- Be fearless when asking people for business.
2. Find lots of clients. Because it’s impossible to know which of them will be good.
3. Work harder than anybody else that you know.
4. Never give up if it is something that you really want.
5. Don’t lie about what you know and what you’ve done.
6. Do not be afraid to want a lot.
7. Things take a long time; practice patience.
8. Avoid compulsively making things worse.
9. Finish what you start.
10. Often people start out by thinking about all the things that they can’t do. Once you take that path, it’s very hard to get off of it. Shoot high and shoot often.